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Western interpretations of the Cold War - both realist and neoconservative - have erred by exaggerating either the Kremlin's pragmatism or its aggressiveness, argues Vladislav Zubok. Explaining the interests, aspirations, illusions, fears, and misperceptions of the Kremlin leaders and Soviet elites, Zubok offers a Soviet perspective on the greatest standoff of the 20th century.
This is a history of the Cold War, largely from the perspective of the Kremlin. The author unapologetically emphasizes the effect of personality on the course of the Cold War. In fact, he argues that the personalities in the Kremlin were decisive. Unlike many historians, he thinks highly of Brezhnev and even Andropov. His evaluations of Kruschev and Gorbachev are mixed.
Zubok's scholarship and grasp of detail are impressive, and he makes good use of the new historical materials which have become available since the late 1990's. Personally, I suspect his analysis is completely off base. However, one of the virtues of the book is that Zubok gives the reader enough solid information to make a personal judgment possible.
The narration is a bit mechanical, but clear and well-paced. This may be because Zubok's writing could be described in almost the same words. This is solid, well-crafted political biography -- not really history in the broader sense. However, if, like me, you lived through many of those events and always wondered, "why did they do that? What were they thinking?" then this book will go a long way towards answering those questions.
If this seems contradictory, consider an example: Zubok explains almost nothing about the internal economic problems of the USSR. However, he thoroughly explores the Soviet leadership's deep ignorance of these issues and how that ignorance affected their decisions. He doesn't really explain the deep stagnation of the Soviet apparat, but is brilliant in explaining how this dead weight isolated the top leadership and constrained their thinking.
18 of 19 people found this review helpful
This book covers the period from the end of World War II through the end of the Soviet Union as seen through the eyes of the Soviet leadership and, as such, it adds a great deal to a balanced view of what happened and why. While it may not be surprising that the Soviets viewed the causes of the crises that arose between the Soviet Union and the West differently it is sometimes surprising to find out exactly how they viewed these causes and what they saw as the possible solutions. This book is written by Vladimir Zubok who appears to have been a member of the Soviet government during part of the time covered by the book and his views and statements are backed up by Soviet archives. The book seemed to me to be facts, as seen from the other side, not just opinion.
In looking at the period from 1945 through 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, the book looks at the actions of each of the Soviet leaders – Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev and the others – and I found it interesting to find out what was on their minds, how and why they proceeded as they did and what others in the leadership thought of their actions.
I found the book to be slow going at first and I was unsure if I could actually finish it. However either I got used to the somewhat wooden narration or the book became more interesting after the first 3 or 4 hours. All of the book is interesting enough and I found that it changed my view of the causes of some of the events covered. In particular it became clear that the Soviet Union was falling apart in it's last decade and that had someone other than Mikhail Gorbachev been head of the Soviet State things might have ended quite differently.
While this book stands on it's own I found it helpful to have also read “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire” as the two give a very good view of the last 10 years or so of the Soviet Union's existence. The feeling that the whole system was coming apart is clear in both books. The end of the Soviet Union was an enormous political event and this book does it's part in explaining what led up to and transpired during that event as seen from the Soviet side. As such I think it is helpful in understanding the late 20th century.
As I mentioned I think that the narration of this book is a bit wooden and uninspiring. It is not bad, it is just not very good. Still, I believe this book is a help in understanding what happened and, as such, I feel I can recommend it in spite of the narration.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book from Vladimir Zubok and/or Nick Sullivan?
Yes to both
Any additional comments?
A Failed Empire was interesting in that most Americans are familiar with the Western perspective on the important events of the Cold War - the Berlin Wall, Cuban missile crisis, etc. This book uses Russian sources to reveal the reasons behind some seemingly contradictory policies pursued by the USSR, and highlighted the unwillingness of some apparently belligerent Soviet leaders to risk actual war. The book is long and detailed, but worth the trouble.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
his contemporary Russian perspective on Cold War history includes at least a few scenes that are BEGGING for a dramatic depiction on television.
ESPECIALLY: In 1972, upon Henry Kissinger's arrival on a visit to the USSR, a drunken, sedative-drugged Brezhnev insisted on taking Kissinger on a bat-out-of-hell high-speed car ride. Brezhnev also took "a terrified Nixon" on a high-speed car ride while on a state visit to America.
I recommend reading this book after watching or re-watching the movie, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles".
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I've read where people have said this is a pro-Russian version of the events or the history of the events from the Russian point of view. I don't believe this is a case, this is more of an opinion book than a history book. I know a ton about WWII and a good deal about the Cold War and the author routinely leaves out crutical information to shape the story to match his opinion. The book does not seem to be very well researched, it seems to be a lot of conculssions based purely on the authors point of view. It's hard to recommend this book and certainly if you did read this book do yourself a huge favor and make sure you actually read some other real history.-
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
The points of view of this book is quite original and very entertaining. I could not put this book down for sheer energy of the narrative and insightful analysis. I wish the author had been tougher on the early history of Stalin.. I believe Stalin was a monster of historical proportions and we still feel the affects of this cruel tyrant. I especially liked the perceptions of American political leadership. I am somewhat surprised by the erratic and confusing policies of going from Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush. I am amazed by the gyrations as each President succeeded his rival; it was dizzying and it defied logic. I can not see how Gorbachev could have saved the Soviet Union; the author indicates that Gorbachev should have been to arrest Yeltsin and shed blood. Regardless, the Soviet Union economy was a basket case and beyond redemption. I was impressed with Leonid Brezhnev as one leader who sought détente primarily with Nixon. Too bad his health and association with Nixon undermined his accomplishments. I did appreciate that the author made it clear that Ronald Reagan did not bring down the Soviet Union. This nonsense was perpetuated by the Republican Party. Another President, Jimmy Carter, was also incompetent in foreign affairs. This is a great and valuable book; I learned much very it and highly recommend as valuable information of American/Russian relationships.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
An basic History 101 overview of an era, but lacking in colour until you get to Gorbachev, and to a lesser extent Brezhnev. Possibly because the lack of freedom means very little in the way of candid records and reflections in time of Stalin and Kruschev. . The Gorbachev period has much more colour in the form of contemporaneous comments from supporters and foes.
The basic question the author asks is whether personalities or historical forces account for the downfall of the Soviet empire. The author concludes that personalities were of greater importance than is generally accepted in contemporary academic historiography. However, the next question is never asked: is the importance of personality the result of a system of personal dictatorship, as distinct from democracies where historical forces are felt through the ballot box. A related point: the author condemns (albeit weakly) Gorbachev's "failure" to use force to hold the Soviet Union together. Another question is not asked, one that is related to the one just mentioned: was the Soviet Union ever anything but an artificial state and society, in the sense that it had to be held together by oppressive force, or not at all.
The narrator is uneven. Sometimes he seems to get bored and sounds like a robot. Also, when will audio publishers make sure the narrators know how to pronounce foreign names and words? The most grating example, but not the only: Levesque pronounced several times as "Levesk".
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
The book is fine. I found the narration very wooden, and too much change between voice tone between the various days it was recorded, and the narration is too slow.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
This book is a great in-depth overview of the Cold War. The only complaint I have is that he sometimes talks about treaties or summits without explaining what they were about. All I wanted was a quick overview. He talks a lot on out Potsdam and Yalta, but doesn't bother to say what they were, which means I have to look it up. He also mentions how events caused tension between politicians, but without context, I have no idea why. But overall, the books gives a very good history on the general progress and fall of the Soviet Union.
Strong pro Western bias. Immediately presumes democracy and capitalism are only correct path and constantly attacks USSR on moral grounds. It is fine to have that view but keep your feelings and judgements out of your nonfiction work. They have no place here.
Also mostly focused on Soviet leaders while ignoring most aspects of Soviet Society. The influence of individuals on soviet history is part of the thesis so that is fine but don't expect this to be a comprehensive history as it certainly is not. No close look at soviet military, economy, etc. Best if you read a more general history of the USSR first then read this. The author does make many interesting points, especially about Gorbachev and the end of the USSR.
Being somewhat interested in the Cold War and soviet history I thought that I would "chance my arm" and see what this book would bring. I was not disappointed. A very well researched book which provides a behind the iron curtain insight into the era of brinkmanship behind the public face of both US and Soviet politics during the period described in the title.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its narrator, who does the writing justice, listening for hours on end it made me switch the tv off over Christmas.
A well written and compelling history of a period which to most European people of my age (42) will provide insight into the tension that led us all to live in fear of nuclear attack. It also provides a realisation of how financial pressure and political reform ended the Soviet Unions pretence to empire and ultimately the end of Soviet Communism.
Listened to twice and now on my third listen, this is simply because I enjoy it and there is a vast amount of information contained within, I will definitely be back to listen maybe three or four times a year.
Armchair history buffs this book is for you!
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
...Focusing almost completely on the actions of the four post war General Secretaries.
Well read and reasonably interesting, but focuses far too much on diplomatic failings of Stalin et al. Next to no information on the failings of the Soviet system itself, and the experiences of individual Soviet citizens.